The 34th Edition of the Wasatch 100 Mile Race took place this past weekend outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Wasatch is the third oldest 100 Mile Trail Race in the country. It starts in Kayesville, Utah and ends in Heber City, Utah. It is a point to point route and if you are fortunate enough to see the sun come up and finish, you will have conquered a staggering 24,000 feet of elevation gain, overcome hunger, dehydration, blisters, falls, hallucinations. All that for a belt buckle and personal satisfaction; oh, and did I say popsicles?
Four a.m. comes early on race day and really, you don’t sleep much anyways the night before. My good friend Wally drives me to the start. “Better you than me, he says”. A cool breeze blows through his truck, not by choice however. His driver side window was busted out in a mid morning theft which leaves him without glasses and his phone. Seriously.
The forecast for the weekend was hot and hot. Mid-90s. Great. Its o.k. though because my first two rules are #1 Never look at the Big Picture and #2 Adapt or Fail. Headlamps bob all around me in the early morning dark as we count the seconds down to the start then off and away down a narrow trail of rocks and dust. Our lights illuminate the trail to the point where one could almost run without one but common sense overrules that thought. The first few miles are uneventful and quiet. The group of 331 starters thins out quickly along the trail and the first long climb of the day brings drops of sweat to my forehead.
“Oh this is just the beginning” the little voice behind my left ear says.
Well then maybe I should have a mantra for the day. Be Patient, Be Smart. So be it.
It is a long 18 miles to the first Aid Station at Frances Peak and to my drop bag where I have stored my go to food of Honey Stingers and homemade rice cakes. The body is interesting and you never know how it will respond to the repetitive movement of forward motion. Mine tells me already that this is going to be a long 100 miles. Some days you have it and some days you don’t but not finishing is never an option, never even considered. The elevation climbs as do the peaks around me. I have always loved the mountains and the unique thing is that I get to see such a variety of terrain all in the span of some 24 to 30 hours. Somewhere between Mile 18 and 25 I feel the IT band in my left leg begin to seize up. Like a corkscrew, the muscles make my knee feel like its being twisted off. Luckily I carry an IT strap for emergencies and once its in place above my knee on my thigh, I experience instantaneous relief and would not feel any more discomfort the entire run. The little voice on my left shoulder says “Nice, but don’t think I don’t have something else in store for you…”
By Mile 28 the temps had reached the low 90s. I reach the Session Lift Off Aid Station at 8320 feet and lo and behold, my first popsicle appears. There is nothing quite like a frozen popsicle in an ultra. Dry ice does amazing things and it gives me some sense of hope that running this trail will bring small rewards that lift me up and propel me forward.
It is just after Big Mountain Pass and Mile 39, that I say my first prayer. The scrub oaks converge on the trail, and swallow me up. There is no air moving. My right leg is gouged and bleeding from a fall early on. Did I say dust? My god, I think it never rains in Utah. The temps climb to mid 90s, maybe higher. I just know its hot.
In the next five miles I drink 70 oz. of fluid, choke down a rice cake, gag on a salt tab, get stung by a bee and lose my eye sight briefly to salty sweat. “Ha, Ha” says the little voice.
Another aid station and another popsicle, more dust, clogged nose, dry throat and happy thoughts. This is what gets me to Mile 50 at Lambs Canyon. My pacer for the next 25 miles is Wally and he knows to lead me but not to much, to just keep me moving a little faster. He monitors my drinking and eating so I don’t fall behind on either. More importantly he listens to my senseless babble. Well, I think he listens anyways.
Into the night we go and I know the temperature will drop. Thank God, but now a new challenge, staying on course. As we climb to almost 10,000 feet I see the lights of Provo down below and wonder if the people down there in their homes have any idea what is transpiring on the Wasatch Range? Hmmm. Pay attention Mike, follow the ribbons or get lost.
We climb and descend and climb and descend and make our way to Mile 75 Aid Station at Brighton Ski Area. I do a body check: Legs? Good. Feet? Good. Head? Still on. My stomach says feed me, so I oblige and fill up on Chicken Noodle soup and hash brown cakes and my new pacer, Todd and I begin the climb to 10,400, which is the high point of the course. There appears to be a gray area for finishing 100 miles.
Somewhere between 65 and 85 miles is where the mind drifts and the little voice inside my head stirs. He is my only competition. Not the runner behind me or the one in front. No, just him and I. He tries to put doubts in my head. Seriously? You better come up with something better than doubts, I think. On we go. The trail is dark and narrow. Scrub oak bushes squeeze my headlamp down to a withering vein of light.
Sunrise sweet sunrise. I know that when I see it the barn is close. Just as we reach the top of Serenity Point, the morning comes alive with the lifeblood of morning rays. Yes, this is why I run hundred milers….
At our last aid station I swallow some cookies and coffee and one more popsicle, just enough to get me the last 7 miles. The miles click off as we head downhill to Soldier Hollow and the finish. It has been a great journey and like so many other runs all those footsteps bring me to my last. Todd politely veers off and leaves me with 200 meters to go. The little voice in my head stirs and then says “Well done, see you next time”….
…..”count on it”, I reply back, and then cross the line.